Sunday, July 13, 2008

First Lady Frances Strickland

On Friday, I had the privilege of attending the Ohio Family and Children First Forum.

This event was chaired by Ohio's First Lady, Frances Strickland.

Ohio's First Lady sees her role as a steward of resources.

Her goal is to streamline and coordinate existing services, in order to better help children and families. Participants were invited to share systems/services that are difficult to navigate, and regulations/policies that do not make sense.

I sat in the front row at this event, and was given the opportunity to to share both my concerns and my availability as a resource to professionals in attendance at the forum.

1.) Systemic issues that I shared:

- Young women who age out of foster care and seek help are often told that they are not eligible for assistance unless they become pregnant.

- A young man, eligible for Medicaid benefits, thanks to HB119, has been repeatedly told for the past six months by the staff member assigned to his case that his Medicaid card is "in the mail."

Meanwhile, this 19-year-old has gone six months without the very insurance that advocates have labored to make available to him.

- Practices that work against young people in foster care by denying them long-term emotional connections, such as changing their birth certificates so that they are no longer legally related to their biological siblings, and not maintaining sibling visitation.

2.) Penny Wyman of OACCA indicated that her top two concerns are transition and coordination:

- There is a need for greater
support for youth in transition.

- The mental health, juvenile justice and child welfare systems need to coordinate
with one another.

- When transitional support is not available, and when systems do not operate in collaboration with one another, this can be detrimental to both short- and long-term outcomes for youth.

3.) A foster mother, who is preparing to adopt the sibling group of four children in her care, asked why the children's biological parents had been asked to pay for the parenting and substance abuse classes that they were ordered to attend?

She said that, in this case, the biological parents had been neglectful but not abusive. The parents could not afford to pay for the classes, and had became discouraged. Their children were elsewhere, so they decided to drown their sorrows in further substance addiction, and wound up losing custody.

4.) A biological mother of a teenage boy who had spent time in the juvenile justice system was concerned that her son had become institutionalized. When his sentence was up, he did not know how to function in the outside world.

5.) Child welfare professionals asked, "Can we cut down on the obscene amount of paperwork? It is confusing to consumers and takes up time that we could be using for direct service."

6.) Overall, the focus of the forum was on "reteaching the systems," because it seems that the people who are making the rules and guidelines have never tried to access those services themselves.

One forum participant advised having staff members "sample the consumer experience."

This idea reminded me of an old William Hurt movie called The Doctor.

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